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The International Centre of Microbial Resources (CIRM), yeast collection in Grignon. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

Genetic and biological resources

Plant genetic resources

INRA manages the collections of genetic resources for more than 50 plant species: model plants for genomic research, crop plants (grains, fodder, oilseeds, vegetable crops, fruit trees, etc.) or decorative plants (grass, ornamental plants). Constituted over 50 years in the service of science, INRA’s shared resources cover a large range of cultivated species and their wild relatives.

By Communications Department, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 02/22/2018
Published on 06/13/2013

Built up for scientific research purposes dedicated to enhancing plants or plant biology, these genetic resources bear witness to the history of agriculture and INRA’s research. As such, they are of inestimable value. The Institute is committed to making a large part of its genetic resources accessible to the world of both research and agriculture.

A source of knowledge, innovation and national heritage

INRA’s research programmes, aimed at enhancing cultivated plant species and analysing genes and their functions, have always required that a wide variety of plant species be collected, characterised and preserved. The collections that the Institute has accumulated are available to many research partners, both public and private. They are a unique resource for the most popular plant varieties used in agriculture today. Genetic resources offer scientists a valuable tool to rise to the challenges of agriculture, food and the environment.

In its role as a public research body, INRA is committed to preserving and managing biological diversity. Where agricultural and ornamental plants are concerned, genetic diversity has been shaped by nature, but also by man, through centuries of cultivation and the domestication of natural species. As such, there is both cultural and historic value in the Institute’s collections. Most often, they are entrusted to the care of national networks that bring together public institutions and a wide range of private partners and associations. In so far as it is able, INRA shares its genetic resources with all potential users, giving priority to research, education and training, and development.

INRA’s operations are in line with French national strategies for biological diversity under the aegis of the Ministry of Ecology, and with national policy headed by the Ministry of Agriculture. These operations are backed by the Foundation for Research in Biological Diversity (FRB), of which INRA is a founding member.

Resources that best represent the biodiversity of living species

For plants that have not been domesticated by man, the genetic resources are naturally-occurring  populations and their related species, sometimes from different parts of the world.
For domesticated plants, genetic resources include: populations from different countries, old and current varieties, the results of cross-breeding or work carried out in laboratories (natural or artificial mutants, sterile male lines, etc.), but also wild species from which they derive and their relatives. The collections available at INRA include a wide range of wild or related species, making the Institute one of the best resources in Europe and the world.

A collection is considered representative if it covers the entire range of diversity of a species, with no duplicates. Samples collected from different sources can turn out to be identical, which is why it is important to document and characterise collections. This provides a basis upon which a “core collection” can be built, made up of a small number of samples that are unique and representative of the entire range of diversity of a plant. This implies a thorough consideration of the nature of diversity to be preserved, which may depend on how the species is put to use at a later date, or if it is intended for new uses: diversity of genes and their functions, diversity of individual species, the heritage or cultural value of certain varieties.

Online resource for INRA’s plant genetic resources

INRA has developed an information system on genetic plant resources, centralizing data on the genetic resources stored in its biological resources centres (BRCs): conservation site, passport data, data on plant characteristics, etc. Samples can be ordered online via the site.  

Information sharing and the law

The Convention on Biological Diversity (recognising the sovereignty of states over their genetic resources, ratified in 1993) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (FAO, applying to major plant crops, ratified in 2005) provide the legal framework that governs how countries share their genetic resources.

In France, the terms of the management and use of plant genetic resources and related laws are currently being reviewed after the voting in of a new law in December 2011 which defines the status of plant genetic material and the terms of their use. INRA makes its genetic resources widely available for research, education, training, and development by distributing small quantities of materials to those who request it.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Plant Biology and Breeding
Associated Centre(s):

Biological resources for tropical plants

CIRAD, INRA and IRD have joined forces in recent years to create BRCs for tropical plant species, both in France and its overseas departments. Together, they are taking steps to secure collections, maintain quality, and develop management tools for BRCs along with a joint website that lists what resources are available.
This endeavour, supported by the scientific interest group IBiSA (Infrastructures in Biology, Health and Agronomy) was undertaken with partners scattered around the world, from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea: Vatel BRC in the Reunion Island (vanilla, tropical garlic varieties, underutilized tropical vegetables), Coffee BRC in the Reunion Island & Montpellier, Tropical BRC in Montpellier (rice), Perennial crops BRC in Guiana (cacao, coffee, rubber) and Tropical plants BRC in Guadeloupe and Martinique (pineapple, banana, sugar cane, yam, mango).

Scientific contact: Claudie Pavis
Unit: Tropical agrosystems, INRA Centre in Guiana
Division: Environment and agronomy